El-Sissi's visit to Berlin stirs human rights controversy in Germany

Published 05.06.2015 00:07
Updated 05.06.2015 00:15
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el Sissi's two-day visit to Germany led to growing official and public protests. (Reuters Photo)
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el Sissi's two-day visit to Germany led to growing official and public protests. (Reuters Photo)

Germany's lukewarm welcome to Egypt's contentious president sparked protests as Germany's move is viewed as condoning human rights violations in Egypt

On Wednesday, after months of refusing a visit from Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed the president to Berlin, despite protests outside of the chancellery and criticism that this move condones deteriorating human rights conditions in Egypt.

Chancellor Merkel changed her mind about meeting President el-Sissi last month because Egypt is "an immensely important player in the Arab world," according to the chancellor's spokesman, Steffen Seibert.

During his term as president, el-Sissi launched a crackdown on former President Mohammed Morsi, the country's first democratically-elected leader who was overthrown by the military after mass protests in July, 2013, and the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist political party he once belonged to. Brotherhood members and supporters as well as other secular and liberal groups, have been widely arrested. Currently, Morsi himself may face a death sentence if the Egyptian courts impose it on him.

The official meeting on Wednesday came a day after Egyptian courts postponed Morsi's recent death sentence.

President of the German Bundestag and member of the same political party as Chancellor Merkel, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Norbert Lammert, withdrew participation in meetings with el-Ssisi last month because of these concerns. Lammert told Deutsche Welle, "In light of these circumstances, I don't know what the president of an elected parliament and the president of a country that is regrettably not led democratically, have to talk about."

A recent commentary published Wednesday by Raniah Salloum on the German news outlet Der Spiegel International describes the visit as "legitimizing a leader who is ruling Egypt more brutally than Hosni Mubarak did."

During the official visit, Siemens, a German industrial company, signed an 8 billion Euro ($9 billion) deal with Egypt to supply wind and gas power plants.

Olaf Boehnke, head of the European Council on Foreign Relations Berlin office, told Al Jazeera that the Germany participated in the deal because it is prioritizing economic interests over human rights concerns and "wants to push Egypt to its more traditional role as one the stakeholders in the Middle East and one of the partners."

Addressing the controversy in a joint news conference with President el-Sissi following the talks on Wednesday, Chancellor Merkel said,"[But] there are things where we have a different opinion. That includes, for example, that under no condition should people be sentenced to death, even if it concerns terrorist activity. I think that if one wants to be partners and solve complex issues, we have to be able talk about these things ... this doesn't mean that we can't work very, very closely on other issues."

She added, "We have discussed the topic of death sentences. The high number of death sentences…from our point of view, this is something that one should prevent."

President el-Sissi responded to these statements by disagreeing and asking the chancellor to show respect to our [Egyptian] perspective."

22-year old Egyptian student and journalist assistant Fagr Aladly shouted at President el-Sissi at the end of the joint press conference, calling him a "murderer" and calling to "put down the military coup."

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